Government finances “further deteriorated in the first six months of 2013” due to a sizeable shortfall in expected revenue coupled with a marked increase in recurrent expenditure, according to the Quarterly Economic Bulletin of the Maldives Monetary Authority (MMA) released last week.
The central bank observed that the government’s target of reducing the budget deficit to 3.6 percent of gross domestic product (GDP) this year from 12.6 percent in 2012 “now seems rather challenging.”
“These developments have resulted in a widening of the budget deﬁcit as indicated by the large ﬁnancing requirement of the government during the ﬁrst six months of 2013. The diﬃculties in accessing long-term foreign funds to ﬁnance the budget deﬁcit resulted in the government resorting to the Maldives Monetary Authority (MMA) and other domestic sources to ﬁnance its growing deﬁcit,” the report stated.
The economic bulletin explained that around 15 percent of total revenue budgeted for 2013 – MVR1.8 billion (US$116.7 million ) – was to be raised from new revenue measures, “which so far have not materialised.”
The revenue raising measures proposed in the 2013 budget included hiking Tourism Goods and Services Tax (T-GST) to 15 percent from July 2013 onward, raising airport service charge to US$30, leasing 14 islands for resort development, raising tariffs on oil, introducing GST for telecom services, and “selectively” reversing import duty reductions.
In April, parliament rejected government-sponsored legislation to raise the departure tax on outgoing passengers, prompting Finance Minister Abdulla Jihad to seek parliamentary approval to divert MVR 650 million (US$42 million) allocated for infrastructure projects in the budget to cover recurrent expenditure.
The move followed a cabinet decision to delay implementation of new development projects financed out of the budget due to shortfalls in revenue.
The economic bulletin meanwhile revealed that total revenue in the first half of this year (MVR5.9 billion or US$382 million) increased by 22 percent compared to 2012 on the back of a 35 percent increase in tax revenue.
Tax revenue was “boosted by favourable receipts from GST [Goods and Service Tax] and Business Profit Tax (BPT).”
While GST receipts rose by 46 percent, “contributed by the increase in the rate of GST on the tourism sector (T-GST), from 6% to 8% on 1 January 2013,” BPT receipts increased by 83 percent.
The MMA report explained that BPT collection this year was “based on ﬁnancial returns for the twelve months ending June 2012, while the BPT collections made in 2012 were based on the ﬁnancial returns of for the six months ending August 2011.”
Growing government spending
The economic bulletin also revealed that the total government expenditure of MVR6.7 billion (US$435 million) in the first half of 2013 was 8 percent higher than the same period in 2012.
The growth of government spending was “entirely due to the 21 percent (MVR965.3 million) growth in recurrent expenditure, which was partly oﬀset by the 26 percent (MVR440.6 million) decline in capital expenditure during the period.”
Capital expenditure declined due to the government’s decision to suspend infrastructure projects financed out of the budget “in the face of signiﬁcant shortfalls in revenue due to the inability to implement new revenue measures.”
The increase of recurrent expenditure was meanwhile “driven by the increase in spending on wages and salaries and government pension contributions, both of which largely reﬂects the transfer of employees in health corporations to civil service commission and employees in Aviation Security Service to Ministry of Defence and National Security starting from January 2013.”
In its professional opinion on the budget proposed for 2013, the Auditor General’s Office had suggested “major changes” to right-size the public sector and “control the salary of state employees and expenditure related to employees” to rein in the budget deficit.
The Auditor General observed that, compared to 2012, the number of state employees was set to increase from 32,868 to 40,333 – resulting in MVR 1.3 billion (US$84.3 million) of additional expenditure in 2013.
This anticipated increase included 864 new staff to be hired by the Maldives Police Service (MPS) and Maldives National Defence Force (MNDF).
The budget deficit forecast for 2013 was MVR 2.33 billion (US$149 million) – to be financed by MVR 1.15 billion (US$74.5 million) in foreign loans and MVR 1.17 billion (US$75.8 million) in domestic finance.
The MMA’s economic bulletin noted that the budget deficit was largely financed from domestic sources, including the issuance of treasury bills (T-bills) to banks and non-bank sectors.
“At the end of June 2013 the total outstanding debt stock of government securities (T-bills and T-bonds) rose to MVR11,702.3 million which reﬂects a net issuance of MVR586.9 million in the ﬁrst half of 2013 compared with MVR615.8 million in the same period of 2012,” it stated.
“Meanwhile, with the increasing challenges faced by the government in ﬁnancing its growing deﬁcit through domestic sources, the government at times had to resort to the MMA, to ﬁnance its deﬁcit. During the ﬁrst six months of 2013, the change in MMA net credit to government increased to MVR781.0 million from MVR131.2 million in the ﬁrst six months of 2012.”
The country’s trade deficit also widened in 2013 compared to the same period last year due to higher level of imports, which “reflects the increase in domestic demand driven by economic recovery and the increase in government expenditure.”
While gross international reserves increased in the first six months of 2013 due to the “accumulation of foreign assets by the commercial banks,” the bulletin noted that, “in terms of import cover, gross reserves remained unchanged at 2.5 months in June 2013 reflecting the acceleration in import growth.”